Foraging Mulberries & Mulberry Ice Box Cake Recipe
I don’t know why mulberries are so under-appreciated. Homeowners often curse the falling berries for staining their sidewalks, and it’s true some species can become invasive. But this is a delectable and versatile fruit.
The following information and recipe are excerpted from my book The Forager’s Feast: How to Identify, Gather, and Prepare Wild Edibles.
Find and Identify a Mulberry Tree
The red mulberry, Morus rubra, is fairly shade-tolerant, but M. alba and M. nigra prefer full sun. In the wild, look for mulberries in floodplain woodlands. They are also a common urban and suburban tree.
Mulberry trees can get up to 60 feet tall, but they are usually much shorter than that. The trees have a scruffy appearance, with the branches sticking out at odd angles. Seen from a distance, I often think mulberries trees look like they are having “a bad hair day.”
Often there are three leaf shapes growing on the same tree: a 2-lobed mitten shape, a 3-lobed leaf, and a roughly heart-shaped leaf. Note that there is another tree out there with those three leaf shapes: sassafras. But the leaf margins of sassafras are smooth whereas those of mulberry are toothed. When there is only one leaf shape on a mulberry, it will be the simple heart shape. Whichever shape, mulberry leaves grow in an alternate arrangement.
The bark of mulberry trees develops craggy vertical furrows as the trees age. The branches emerge from the short trunks just a few feet above the ground.
As for the fruit, mulberries look very much like blackberries, although depending on the species the fruit may be ripe when it is dark purple or when it is pale pink. (FYI, blackberries do not grow on trees. Whenever someone tells me they found a “blackberry tree,” I know that what they really found was mulberries).
Mulberry fruits ripen over several weeks, and it is common to see green, white, red, and dark purple (almost black) fruits on one tree at the same time.
How to Sustainably Harvest Mulberries
Peak mulberry season stretches from late spring through early summer. It’s easy to tell when the berries are ripening because they start dropping onto the ground.
The quickest way to collect them is to lay down a drop cloth and then shake the branches: the ripe mulberries will fall immediately. If you prefer to pick them off of the tree, take only those that yield to your gentle pull without resistance. If you have to tug, that one isn’t ripe yet.
Harvesting the berries does not hurt the tree. And you’re actually curbing the spread of these sometimes invasive species by gathering their fruits.
Whether fallen fruit or plucked from the branch, mulberries always come off the tree with a small bit of stem attached. These are a hassle to remove, and often I don’t bother. But if you’re serving guests you may want to take the time.
Mulberry Ice Box Cake with Rosewater Cream
This no-bake recipe looks fancy but is super simple to make. The hint of rosewater pairs nicely with the mulberries without overwhelming their gentle flavor.
2 cups/475 ml heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon rosewater
3 1/2 cups/600 g fresh or frozen mulberries, divided
16 – 20 graham crackers, petit beurre cookies, or thin sugar cookies
- Pour the cream into a large bowl. Beat it with a hand mixer or stand mixer until it forms soft peaks. Add the sugar and rosewater and continue to whip the cream until it again forms stiff peaks.
- Using small ramekins, a muffin tin, or decorative molds, spread about an inch of the cream in the bottom of six of the forms. Place in the freezer.
- Spread a thin layer of the cream on a platter or large plate. Add a layer of the graham crackers or cookies to form a 6-inch square. Spread a layer of the cream on top, then arrange 1 cup of the mulberries on the cream. Cover the mulberries with another layer of crackers or cookies, another layer of cream, and another cup of berries. Repeat one more time, then finish the top with a layer of cookies or crackers and one last layer of cream. You should have four layers of cookies plus cream and three layers of mulberries.
- Refrigerate the mulberry cake for 2 to 4 hours. To serve, put a slice of the ice box cake on a plate. Top with a few of the remaining 1/2 cup of mulberries. Put one of the frozen cream circles alongside the cake.
“Fantastic. Informative. Top-notch. Lovely time.” – NYC foraging tour participant
The Forager’s Feast: How to Identify, Gather, and Prepare Wild Edibles is part field guide covering 50 plants, mushrooms, and seaweeds with a widespread distribution, and part cookbook for turning these wild edibles into delectable dishes.
“Leda Meredith is, in my opinion, the Foraging Goddess, and the next best thing to this book would be to share a field expedition with her! I highly recommend The Forager’s Feast to anyone who has a love of the wild foods.” – Amazon review by Susan C.